A strike seven minutes into extra-time from player/coach Nicole Begg earned Canberra Olympic a place in the Federation Cup Semi-Finals as they defeated great rivals Canberra Croatia 2-1 in an epic encounter at the Australian Institute of Sport.
Whilst there was an element of fortune about the matchwinner, Begg curling in from close to the corner flag when it appeared to all intent that she was attempting a cross into the middle of the penalty area, Olympic will feel they did just enough to pip Croatia in this clash of the titans.
Croatia, the reigning League Champions, had been beaten in the Federation Cup Semi-Final and the Qualification Final by Olympic in 2022 and were under no illusions that this task was to be a tricky one, but they had enough clear opportunities of their own to stake a claim for progression.
Perhaps the best of those fell to young fullback Zoe Sobczak who, after imitating an attack from left back, continued her run to meet a superb cross from opposite runner Brandy Nicholson, only to mistime her finish when connecting six-yards out from goal, her effort skidding wide of the post.
Earlier, Janet King in the Olympic goal, was relieved to see a fierce left-foot drive from Brittany Palombi, starting her first game since Appendix surgery just after Christmas, flash across the face of goal.
Olympic had threatened themselves, the pace of Madelyn Whittall causing problems, the former Belconnen United striker only denied restoring Olympic’s lead by a superb block from all-action defensive lynchpin Amy McLachlan. The central defender sliding across her own area to smother the effort.
Arusha Chew was a headache all evening for McLachlan and defensive partner Rhiannon Fensom, with her bustling style proving to be a strong outlet for some pinpoint long-passing via the boot of Elke Aitolu and Jasmine Zabel, and latterly the cultured Ali Cook, a second-half substitute.
The match burst into life around the hour mark when Olivia Gurney latched onto a long ball over the head of the Croatia defence to unleash a ferocious shot that flashed high above Maddy Angel and into the top corner, a strike worthy of breaking the stalemate and, looking like, winning the tie.
And yet Croatia levelled within two minutes. Isabella Barac picked up a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area and worked her way into the penalty area from where her low cross, hit with anger, proved too hot to manage for King, Sienna Birnie turning the ball into the net from close range.
Extra-time was needed and Begg, who had brought herself into the fray in the second stanza, provided the match-winner from that angled cross. A little bit of magic or a little bit of luck? You need both to be successful in cup competitions, so maybe it was a combination of the two that sent Olympic on to meet Gungahlin United in the last four.
Canberra Croatia 1 (Birnie 63’) Canberra Olympic 2 (Gurney 61’, Begg 97’) – after extra time